Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review - Red Country

Red Country – Joe Abercrombie

Red Country was one of my most anticipated novels this year. I enjoyed the First law trilogy but it was Joe’s follow-up novel Best Served Cold that I really sat up and took notice as to how good Mr. Abercrombie actually was. When “The Heroes,” was released Joe cemented his place as one of my favourite authors. Expectations were high going into this book to say the least.

The Blurb:

Shy South comes home to her farm to find a blackened shell, her brother and sister stolen, and knows she'll have to go back to bad old ways if she's ever to see them again. She sets off in pursuit with only her cowardly old step-father Lamb for company. But it turns out he's hiding a bloody past of his own. None bloodier.

Their journey will take them across the lawless plains, to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feuds, duels, and massacres, high into unmapped mountains to a reckoning with ancient enemies, and force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, a man no one should ever have to trust . . .

For ages I have been looking for a good Western series to get my teeth into and I am yet to find one. There have been other books that have been standalone and whetted my appetite such as “the Sister’s brothers” but an actual series remains illusive. “Red Country” has now made that appetite ravenous.

With Joe Abercrombie, you know you are going to get three things: 1) Great characters, 2) Violence and 3) Great humour. “Red Country” has all of these in abundance.

Every character oozes charm and depth. Not just the main characters, hell not just the secondary characters but also the tertiary characters as well. As the blurb indicates the book centres on Shy South and her quest to find her stolen sister and brother.

In “Best Served Cold,” the protagonist was a strong woman, ruthless and cold. In “Red Country” Shy South starts off in the same mold, but slowly evolves into a softer woman. It is an interesting exercise as the typical trope is to have a character start off weak and become strong. I wouldn’t go as far as to say Shy gets weaker but as other characters emerge and become more dominant, she questions her own actions and she is suddenly unsure of herself and those around her.

It makes for compelling reading and allows the other characters to emerge to the foreground. No one takes advantage of this more than “Lamb.” Lamb is a character many of the Abercrombie’s fans will be familiar with. What I love most about him is that with other characters of his ilk they can become very boring very quickly. Abercrombie has managed to make Lamb interesting over a number of books now and I still want to read more about him. The scene where Lamb emerges as the character we all know and love is one of my favourite scenes ever.

Other fan favourites also return. It would be easy for Abercrombie to use these prominently and be sure of another hit release. However, although significant, these characters make way for his new creations too. What we are left with is the perfect blend of old and new characters and a delightful book.

I am not reticent in saying that the characters are key for me in any book, but the plot also has to be good too. “Red Country” does not purport to have a complex plot but nor does it need to be. It is a classic quest story whilst subtly introducing the reader into new settings and a world that is arguably progressing. Having said that, just because it is uncomplicated it does not necessarily mean that it is weak.

Abercrombie, manages to get the pace spot on between the action sequences and the character development. Although he uses multiple view points, the book is firmly focused on the “Fellowship” which is the right thing to do. If there is a weakness, then there are a few chapters after a certain event that are slow, but this is inevitable as the story builds towards its conclusion.

Speaking of which, the climax of the novel is excellent. As with Abercrombie’s previous work, you know that not everyone will get a happy ending. It is realistic and you have to be realistic about these things. Joe makes sure all loose ends are tied up nicely and nothing is left unclear, well almost nothing.

Overall, Joe has written another winner. My expectations for Red Country were impossibly high and Joe has still managed to surpass them. Contender for book of the year for me.

My rating: 9.5

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